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Italian Jewelers Bridge the Price Gap

MILAN — The days of women waiting patiently for a man to buy them an expensive piece of jewelry are long gone, and fine jewelry can now be found on everyone from mature ladies in couture gowns to designer-clad young women.<br><br>Of course, a...

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MILAN — The days of women waiting patiently for a man to buy them an expensive piece of jewelry are long gone, and fine jewelry can now be found on everyone from mature ladies in couture gowns to designer-clad young women.

This story first appeared in the August 26, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Of course, a penchant for sporting eye-popping baubles isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor is it in everyone’s budget. But fine jewelry has unquestionably gained momentum as a fashion accessory, to the point that fashionistas and style mavens will match their rings and earrings to their latest designer outfit or purse.

Now, a number of high-end Italian jewelry companies are reinforcing that message with collections that are less demanding in terms of price and wearability, but that don’t bypass signature design and exclusive craftsmanship. Among firms who have introduced new, lower-priced collections are La Nouvelle Bague, Damiani, Torrini, Pasquale Bruni and Stefan Hafner.

Carrying prices at 20 to 50 percent below their top-of-the-line pieces, these jewelry companies want to boost sales, inject a dose of whimsy and — in the process — lure a younger crowd.

“If you spend $1,000 for a jewel instead of $5,000, the purchase has a more playful spirit and you don’t feel as guilty,” said Leopoldo Poli, co-owner of La Nouvelle Bague, the Florentine-based company.

Indeed, if splurging on a Birkin bag or a pair of Manolo Blahnik crocodile stilettos keeps young fashionistas up nights with anticipation, why shouldn’t it be the same for jewelry?

“I’ve seen women walk into our shop and buy themselves a $5,000 jewel,” said Françoise Izaute, corporate marketing director for Pasquale Bruni. “Today, women are much more confident when it comes to wearing and buying jewelry. They don’t fall for the perfectly matching jewelry, but like to play with the different combinations.”

Pasquale Bruni, based in Velenza, is known for its use of colored stones. The company recently introduced Ghirlande, a versatile collection where the leitmotif is navette-cut diamonds and colored stones such as garnet, citrines and blue topaz. With a variety of styles and prices, it suits the tastes of different women. The collection is designed to be worn from day into night, and prices start at $1,600 retail for small diamond earrings and go as high as $120,000 for a 15-carat diamond cross.

“The line was conceived to create something new and for the first time, the creative element is developed in all directions,” said Izaute. “The idea is to mix and match important pieces, because although jewelry remains symbolic, it’s also viewed as an accessory.”

Bologna-based Stefan Hafner, who recently presented a downscaled version of the diamond choker that Janet Jackson wore to last year’s Grammy Awards said: “Today, women are gutsy when it comes to buying jewels, which are the mirror of their soul and style.” He said that some may wear a flawed 50-carat diamond, while others will go for a smaller one as long as it’s pure.

“The boom for colored stones resulted in people paying sky-high prices for stones that were worth much less,” he noted.

Hafner doesn’t economize when it comes to his designs, but recently — for his new, lower-priced Orchid Group and Springtime collection — he created necklaces, bracelets and earrings shaped like flowers and made with diamonds and colored sapphires.

“These are the kinds of jewels that daughters will steal from their mother’s jewelry boxes,” Hafner said.

For Torrini, based in Florence, jewelry is all about design, even in its new, lesser-priced Format collection. “We wanted Format to be fresher, trendier and more innovative,” said Gianni Guideri, commercial and sales marketing director for Torrini.

Format targets women between the ages of 25 and 35.

“For two years, we worked on a second line that we ended up trashing because it strayed from our standards,” said Guideri. Format, in fact, targets a consumer hungry for price-conscious, nonstandardized jewelry that reflects Torrini’s centuries-old history — the Florentine company was founded in 1369 — design and hand-done workmanship. Jewelry in the Format collection has smaller quantities of gold, simpler shapes and few stones. Prices are 30 percent less than Torrini’s more upscale Pitti 1369 line.

Damiani, meanwhile, has introduced Bliss, a collection geared toward younger customers that has been sold exclusively in Italy since 2000. The line features simple and graphic pieces in gold, with colored stones and sprinkles of sapphires, rubies and emeralds. Plans to broaden its distribution are in the works.

La Nouvelle Bague’s Poli admits that even he didn’t quite expect the success of his new Quori line, especially the sterling silver version introduced last Valentine’s Day. The collection revolves around stylized hearts, used for pendants, earrings and rings, revved up with colored enamel details.

“These objects are spiritually rich and have an amuletic value,” said Poli, who likes to create his jewels with the same philosophical outlook he has in life.

Quori stems from a well-defined strategy that more carefree products are especially likely to be embraced by consumers during hard times, said Poli. In keeping with this philosophy, the items carry retail prices about 30 percent less than the company’s core collection. The pendants also come in more expensive, jazzed-up versions in white or yellow gold, encrusted with precious stones such as rubies and sapphires.

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